News | FVB | 13-07-2020

FVB research and activities relating to the coronavirus pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has also been a great challenge to the FVB institutes: the intermediate emergency mode saw most employees working from home and on-site research activities being put on hold – with the exception of coronavirus-relevant research at the FMP. Berlin’s non-university research facilities resumed operations at the end of May, whilst adhering to hygiene rules.

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Coronavirus | Source: Pixabay

Some FVB institutes are engaged in research into coronaviruses or the COVID-19 disease; others have donated material or performed voluntary work. An overview:

Researchers at the Leibniz-Forschungsinstitut für Molekulare Pharmakologie (FMP) are studying new approaches in COVID-19 diagnostics and therapy. These include antiviral compounds, such as an influenza inhibitor recently described by Professor Christian Hackenberger’s research group in the specialist literature. To support diagnostics in the general population, the company MiProbes is developing a non-PCR screening at FMP’s cell engineering facility for the direct detection of coronavirus. With regard to how enveloped viruses enter the cells, the structure of the virus will be investigated using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy under the lead of Professor Hartmut Oschkinat. Likewise, studies on the structure and dynamics of viral membrane proteins by means of solid-state NMR and molecular dynamics (MD) simulations are being planned, as these structures may be targets for antiviral inhibitors. Professor Adam Lange and Dr. Han Sun are involved in this work.

At the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB), Professor Michael Monaghan is performing voluntary work in the coronavirus crisis. Together with a small group of researchers from Berlin’s universities, he is organizing a database of experts for Berlin to conduct coronavirus tests in a bid to increase capacity at local diagnostic laboratories.

In the context of the BMBF consortium “Advanced UV for Life,” the Leibniz-Institut für Kristallzüchtung (IKZ) has joined forces with Freiberger Compound Materials GmbH, CrysTec GmbH, Ferdinand-Braun-Institut, Leibniz-Institut fuer Hoechstfrequenztechnik (FBH) and Technische Universität Berlin to develop low-wavelength UV LEDs on aluminum nitride (AlN) substrates. The aim in future is to use these UV LEDs for disinfecting air, water, or surfaces such as the surfaces of medical devices.

The Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) is involved in responding to press enquiries concerning the possible role of wild animals in the transmission of coronaviruses such as SARS-CoV-2 – a particular focus is on bats as potential virus carriers. The institute has already published articles on coronaviruses in recent years. Preparations are being made for research activities that embrace a comprehensive consideration of human, animal, and ecosystem health in the One Health approach.

At the Weierstrass Institute for Applied Analysis and Stochastics (WIAS), Dr. Markus Kantner and Dr. Thomas Koprucki have modeled the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Researchers led by Alexander Hinsen and Dr. Benedikt Jahnel have been investigating stochastic epidemic models on random networks in the context of the spread of malware in ad-hoc telecommunication systems since 2018. These methods are now being further developed for applications in epidemiology. Professor Dietmar Hömberg was co-organizer of the webinar “Mathematics of the COVID19 crisis – In the eye of the storm” on April 29, 2020, hosted by the “European Consortium for Mathematics in Industry”.

In addition, FVB institutes donated materials such as protective masks and gowns and disinfectants to hospitals in Berlin and to the Berlin and Brandenburg’s state laboratory (LLBB) when they were experiencing shortages.

FVB’s Leibniz-IZW director Professor Heribert Hofer and FMP director Professor Volker Haucke were guests on the Leibniz Podcast “Tonspur Wissen,” answering questions about the coronavirus (in German only):